Investigate the perceived benefits of an inclusive mainstream

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Chapter 1: Introduction

In this dissertation, the researcher seeks to investigate the perceived benefits of an inclusive mainstream setting on a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by exploring related research literature, as well as by inquiring into the opinions and experiences of teachers. The researcher hopes to find out if inclusion in the mainstream classroom gives a child with ASD any advantage. She also hopes to investigate teachers' opinions on methodologies and training in relation to inclusion and the child with ASD.

Inclusive Education has been of interest to the researcher throughout her Bachelor of Education Degree. She was first introduced to the topic in a series of lectures on Inclusion during the early years of her degree. The theory and issues involved were highlighted and became more relevant to the researcher when on teaching practice in a number of schools which were struggling to make inclusion a reality. It was at this stage the researcher decided she would like to work in the area of Special Education and contribute to the efforts being made to create an inclusive educational system. What are the aims of inclusion? How does the child with ASD fit in with today's ideal of inclusive education? And are teachers adequately trained and supported to facilitate successful inclusion in the mainstream classroom?

The research undertaken to seek this information involved a survey in the form of a standardised questionnaire and interviews with teachers from both a Special School and a Mainstream school.

Below is a brief outline of the project:

Chapter 2 discusses what has been published on the topic in question by accredited scholars and researchers. This chapter examines the relevant documents, policies, curriculum and other literature thus displaying the knowledge that has already been established in the area of inclusion and the child with ASD. Chapter 3 describes the methodology used to collect the research data, which in this case was a questionnaire and interviews, and the reason behind the choice of methodologies. It also includes a description of the questionnaire designed and the interview questions. Also included in this chapter are the limitations and ethics involved in conducting the research. In chapter 4, the research findings from both the questionnaire and the interviews are presented. This chapter includes a number of tables and charts to make findings more accessible to the reader. Finally, chapter 5 discusses the findings within the context of the literature. This chapter provides a link between the research results and the conclusions based on the literature review.

Chapter 2: Review of the Literature

2.1 Introduction

Over the past decades there has been an increasing push towards educating children with disabilities in mainstream settings, with a growing emphasis in many educational systems on the need for full inclusion (Mitchell, 2004).

The first step in supporting a child with an autism spectrum disorder within the classroom, is learning what signs to look for to determine whether a child shows signs of having ASD, such as difficulty maintaining eye contact, repetitive or ritualistic behaviours, or difficulty maintaining peer relationships. (Macintosh & Dissanayake, 2006, 1065)

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are often considered to be among those children with more severe or specific disabilities. Their social, communication and behavioural difficulties pose particular challenges to the process of inclusion (Simpson, Boer-Ott, & Smith- Myles, 2003).

2.2 What is Autism / Autistic Spectrum Disorder?

“Autism is a unique neurobiological condition that results in what is called a ‘triad of impairment'” (Carey, 2005, 37)

As stated in the report of the Special Education review committee (SERC, 1993) childhood Autism is considered one of the most severe developmental conditions affecting children. There is a general agreement that A.S.D is present from infancy. While there are varying approaches to diagnosing A.S.D, all agree that associated impairments arise from three main characteristics.

The impairments can be defined as follows:

1.Social interaction:

  • Indifference to others / aloofness
  • Inappropriate or odd approaches to others
  • Enjoyment of social contact but inability to initiate it or maintain it
  • No notice taken of responses given from others
  • Overly formal or stiff interaction

2.Language and communication:

  • Communicative ability may vary widely
  • Incorrect use of vocabulary
  • Difficulty with turn-taking and timing
  • Unable to read practical language, body language and gestures
  • Inability to feel empathy for others
  • Take a literal meaning of language

3.Imaginative thinking, range of activity and restricted behavioural pattern:

  • Narrow range of interests
  • Obsessive play activities
  • Different/unusual way of using play materials
  • Becomes preoccupied with irrelevant details of a task
  • Difficulty adjusting to change of routine
  • Difficulty accepting the consequences of actions
  • A blurred line between fantasy and reality (Carey, 2005, SERC, 1993)

In Autism Spectrum Disorder - A draft Agenda for Europe (DG-SANCO, 2010) it states that approximately 1 in every 100 individuals in the population are affected by ASD. As described by Kanner in 1943, those affected by Autism fall under a spectrum ranging from severe autism through to more subtle disorders like Aspergers Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified (PDDnos). Though more subtle than Autism they are often equally as challenging behaviours. (DG-SANCO, 2010, Hornby et al, 1997).

2.3 Typical or Not?

While every child with ASD is different as it is a highly variable condition, each child has impairments that fall into the three key areas to some level or another (Wing, 2007). The core deficit in children with ASD is most definitely social in nature. It is generally agreed that it is this intense impairment in social behaviour which characterises children with ASD and is the most disabling feature of the condition (Wing, 2007, Volkmar, 1987, Wing and Gould, 1979).

It is usual that when social impairment is present, social communication and imagination are also impaired. “The earliest outward indication of the development of imagination is pretend play, including role play. This is the precursor of the ability to imagine how another person might think and feel” (Wing, 2007, 24).The absence of this ability to empathise has been called ‘mind blindness' (Frith, 2003). It is usually a child's lack of language acquisition that first draws a parent's attention to the fact that something is wrong. Autistic children do not reciprocate conversation and generally their questions are directly connected to their obsessions. You will often hear the child echoing words and phrases which they have heard, but this is more of a monologue than a conversation. Comprehension may also be severely impaired, (Dillenburger et al, 2010, Wing, 2007, Hornby et al, 1997).

‘Kanner also considered that children with early infantile autism were all of potentially normal intelligence. We now know that the triad can be found in children and adults of any level of intelligence, from profound learning disability up to genius level. These enormous variations in the clinical picture can make recognition of the presence of an autistic spectrum disorder very difficult.'

(Wing, 2007, 25)

2.4 A brief history of Special Education in Ireland

As reported by Dr. David J. Carey (2005) Ireland founded its National Education System in 1831 making attendance for children between the ages of six and fourteen mandatory. By 1892, it was mandatory for all children to complete one hundred and fifty days of school a year. By 1924, The Department of Education had been established. It was not considered appropriate for children with special needs to be educated alongside their peers and this lead to the opening of St. Vincent's Home for Mentally Defective Children in 1947. This was the first Special school recognised by the state.

Throughout the 1960's more special schools for children with mental handicaps and physical and sensory disabilities were established. These initiatives were supported by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) and were recognised by the state. In 1965 the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Mental Handicap fully supported the development of specialist schools (Griffin and Shevlin, 2007). This report also suggested that mainstream schools should include special classes for children who were considered “slow learners” (Carey, 2005), but this was just in some cases. During the 70's and 80's many Special schools were opened. These schools were generally housed in buildings which were formally institutions. “The leadership of these schools was especially visionary and included many who today are considered to be in the forefront of the development of Ireland's special education system.” (Carey, 2005, 131). At this stage in special education history there came recognition of the difference between slow learners and children who had mental or physical disabilities (Carey, 2005).

The worldwide trend for integration of children with special needs in mainstream education in the mid-80's began to influence Irish educational policy (Griffin and Shevlin, 2007). This lead to the introduction of special classes in mainstream schools and teachers were training specifically to cater for these children. By 1993 the Report of the Special Education Review Committee (SERC) was published dealing with the educational implications of children with special needs. At this time there were over two thousand children being educated in special classes in mainstream schools. Even though the SERC report did not meet an international best practice standard, it did give a progressive re-visioning of special education in Ireland and this still has an impact today (Lynch, 2007).

Following in the SERC reports footsteps the Government White Papers of 1995 and 2000 furthered the fight “…to promote quality and equality for all, including those who are disadvantaged through economic, social, physical and mental factors, in the development of their full educational potential”. (Government White Paper, 1995)

In January 2000, the Minister for Education issued a document listing guiding principles related to the rights and responsibilities of special education. There were seven of them in total:

  1. Entitlement: All children with special educational needs (SEN) are entitled to quality education suited to their needs and abilities.
  2. Early Identification of Needs: SEN assessment should take place as early as possible and should be as comprehensive as possible.
  3. Promoting Inclusion: The inclusion of all children with SEN should be promoted by special educational services. The aim should be for all children with disabilities to share as complete an educational experience as possible with their peers.
  4. Review Progress: The progress of children with SEN will be reviewed and tracked at specific intervals.
  5. Continually Update Policy: Policy and practice in this area should follow the most up-to-date and relevant research of home and abroad.
  6. Integrated Services: There should be a continuum of special educational provision in relation to each disability as most disabilities have a range of different needs.
  7. Right of Appeal: When a difference of opinion arises relating to identification and provision, among professionals and the children and their parents, there should be an appeals system in place.

Ireland continues to move forward in regards to special education, implementing the aims, goals, and objectives of the SERC report and the White Papers. (Carey, 2005)

In addition to these policy documents, in October 2001, an unofficial paper was prepared and published by committees established by the Department of Education and Science. This was the report of The Task Force on Autism, entitled ‘Educational Support and Provision for Persons with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)'. It was a comprehensive review of Autism in Ireland covering identification, assessment and intervention and made a number of recommendations that are relevant today. (Lynch, 2007, Carey, 2005). Most importantly, that ‘the Department of Education and Science make available a range of approaches to meet the needs of children with ASD including home-based services, mainstream and special schooling, and all related core therapies.'(DES, 2001), that a full range of resources be made available to children with ASD, in school settings and that schools enrolling these children actively promote inclusion of these children and adopt a whole-school ethos to support them (DES, 2001).

Further development was made in 2004 with the Education for persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN). The EPSEN Act says children with SEN are entitled to be educated ‘in an inclusive environment with those who do not have such needs' it also says that they ‘shall have the same right to avail of, and benefit from, appropriate education as do their peers who do not have such needs' (EPSEN, title page). ‘Within an Irish context, we have seen significant changes in special education policy and practice. Until comparatively recently, special education existed on the margins of the general education system.' (Griffin and Shevlin, 2007,).

2.5 National and International Policy

‘Education systems have come to be guided by explicit policies to raise educational standards, on one hand, and by policies to promote inclusion, on the other.' (Norwich, 2009, 447) For example, English government education policies have attempted to raise the standards of education through a mixture of accountability and points systems, while also trying to maintain some degree of inclusive education and inclusive schooling. These priorities in policy are also apparent in other countries like the USA and other European countries. Worldwide educational policy shows conflicting ideas about values, methodologies and approaches to education, its purposes and its organisation. The main back bone to these international policies is the worldwide push towards including more students with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities into ordinary schools and mainstream classroom settings moving away from separate special schools and classes (Norwich, 2009). The World Conference on Special Needs Education, adoption of the Salamanca Statement proclaimed firstly, the right of all children to education (at this time there were still some groups not in education), and secondly, that “those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools” (UNESCO, 1994, viii). These proclamations served to help maintain the thrust of the inclusive education movement. This fast paced momentum of the inclusive movement, did not take into consideration of the consequences for teachers, pupils, and resources or special schools (Lynch, 2007). Inclusion has become an integral part of our educational system. However, policy shows that tensions exist in relation to how inclusion should be defined (Hodkinson, 2010, Hornby 2002). Definitions and categories of special educational needs and disability vary across countries. Some countries define only one or two types of special needs. Others categorise pupils with special needs in more than 10 different categories. These differences between countries are strongly related to administrative, financial and procedural regulations. They do not reflect variations of the incidence and the types of special educational needs between these countries (Meijer, 2010).

2.6 Inclusive Education

2.6.1 What is Inclusion?

Inclusion is the placement of a child with special educational needs in a mainstream classroom with all the essential resources and support being made available to them. Supports can vary from easily met requirements such as preferential seating placements or differentiated assignments, to intense needs such as nursing care, assistance in feeding and toileting. Successful inclusion dependents on this provision of resources for all children. ‘At the present time in Ireland there is a critical lack of resources and the various pieces of education legislation make it clear there is no real intent to provide resources based on need.' (Carey, 2005, 59). Meaningful inclusion can be strained under these circumstances but most children with SEN can be included in mainstream classrooms, with outside specialist services brought to them. (Lynch, 2007, Carey, 2005, Dessent, 2004, O'Brien, 2000, Hegarty et al, 1984). Although educating children with SEN is not just simply a question of importing specialist services and methods into the mainstream school. Some specialist resources may be needed based on the child's needs (Hegarty et al, 1984).

2.6.2 The Debate:

Research evidence shows that pupils with SEN can benefit from the intellectual challenge offered by planned curriculum opportunities to reflect on their own learning (Watson, 1996). Mary Warnock imagined a set of aims for all children: independence, enjoyment and understanding. The aim for children with SEN should be to aid their progress, however limited, towards these goals (Warnock, 2005). For children with ASD who are socially indifferent, education must begin with basic skills of self-care, understanding and communication use of verbal and/or non-verbal, spatial awareness and practical skills. The most important progress needed is helping and encouraging the child to tolerate simple social contact with others. Any progress made beyond these basic skills depends on the inherent potential of the child (Wing, 2007, Carey, 2005). Wedell (1995, cited in Mullen White, 2005) points out that the educational environments which we are including pupils with SEN into are not appropriate. This is because these environments assume that pupils of the same age or same class will have the same learning needs (Lynch, 2007). Putting children with some disabilities in a mainstream classroom exposes them to a constantly changing and busy environment that they cannot cope with. They find it terrifying. A child with SEN needs their own space in a highly organised situation to make any educational progress (Wing, 2007).

‘Schooling is about more than just acquiring academic skills. It is not enough to be a brilliant mathematician if you cannot understand yourself of others' (Carey, 2005, 55). Social and emotional development of children in school is the important thing we must focus on. The ability to cooperate and contribute is essential when contributing to society. School is a place where children can learn to interpret their environment and learn how to understand the needs and motivations of others around them (Carey, 2005, NCCA, 1999). One of the arguments in favour of educational inclusion is that all children with SEN benefit from the social life in a mainstream school and by socialising with their typically developing peers (Ainscow, 2007, Dessent, 2004, O'Brien, 2000). It is not realistic to expect all children to be able to learn in a mainstream school. A higher quality of education could be achieved in an ‘inclusive system', meaning a system which has strong links between mainstream and special schools (Ainscow, 2007, O'Brien, 2000). Warnock argues that all children should be included in a common educational system, but she does not state that they should be under the same roof at all times (Wing, 2007).

2.6.3 Conclusion:

Children attend school, special, mainstream or a combination of both - to Learn. No matter which side of the inclusion debate you are on, it cannot be assumed that children in a mainstream setting receive a higher quality of education (Hornby, 1999). Some children with SEN may learn best in a programme which has links between special and mainstream settings. Others may reach their full potential in a special school environment. In this debate it is essential to recognise that the people who are putting inclusive ideals into practice need extra support and training to help them. This will help them to develop inclusive systems and promote an ethos which moves from tolerance into acceptance (Wing, 2007, Ainscow, 2007, Lynch, 2007, Wearmouth, 2001, O'Brien, 2000)

2.7 Educational Provision in Ireland and the child with ASD

2.7.1 Educational Settings:

The structure of the educational provision for children with ASD in Ireland set out by the SERC report (1993) is useful for determining the effectiveness of the mainstream classroom as a learning environment. The system includes special and mainstream schools. The first include only children with special needs. Teaching is sometimes provided by special education teachers, specifically recruited for these posts on the basis of a college degree in special education (although not specifically related to autism) and also mainstream teachers in the special school setting that receive supplementary training in autism. In mainstream schools, children with disabilities can be found in two different situations. Some of them spend all their time in a support classroom (segregated mainstream placement). The contact of children in these units with the rest of the school is minimal, and in practice their educational placement is similar to a special school for children with autism within a regular school (Carey, 2005, Hornby et al, 1997)). The teachers in these classes tend to lack the onsite support of experts and training that those in special autism schools enjoy. The remaining children in mainstream schools (non-segregated mainstream placement) spend a varying amount of time in the regular classroom with other children, and with teachers with and without degrees in special education. In the inclusive classroom, the structure of the classroom itself and potential difficulties with non-ASD peers can cause trouble (Ainscow, 2007, Lynch, 2007, Dessent, 2004). Both of these are problems absent in segregated mainstream placement and special schools. These last two situations, however, are different in other respects. In special schools all resources are usually more specific and more readily available than in inclusive mainstream placement (Ainscow, 2007, Sharkey, 2000). On the other hand, segregated and inclusive mainstream classrooms have differing structure, while sharing the school they are in, its lack of specialization and specific resources for autism is usually quite apparent (Carey, 2005, Sharkey, 2000).

2.7.2 The mainstream classroom and the child with ASD:

For a child assessed as being on the autistic spectrum, day-to-day interactions with other children can be difficult at best. There are few situations as insistently social as primary school, and for many children with an ASD, school is incredibly difficult. Many children spend their time in school either attempting to avoid interaction with other children, or wishing that they could interact and make friends, without having the social skills necessary to know how to fully participate (Macintosh & Dissanayake, 2006). This is in marked contrast with the experience of most children, who thrive given the opportunity to work closely with, and to learn from their peers. As Lev Vygotsky stated, “human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them” (1978, 88). Though not as social as some of their developing peers, children with ASD are possessed with that “specific social nature” that is common in all human beings. As group work comes into more frequent use in Irish schools (NCCA, 1999), it becomes even more likely that children with ASD will be thrown into situations that call for group work that they will be unprepared to face without a proper support system. This creates great potential for those children who struggle in group settings to fail, not just academically, but socially and interpersonally as well. Opportunities for conflict with teachers and peers appear when children with ASD experience social and interpersonal struggle (Lopata, Thomeer, Volker & Nida, 2006, Carothers & Taylor, 2004, Laushey & Heflin, 2000).

2.8 Conclusion

An important step in supporting a child with an ASD within the classroom is understanding how that child views the world. There are challenges particular to autism that will be faced by most children who have an ASD, and it is important that classroom teachers and other adults who will work with those children have at least a passing understanding of the difficulties faced by those children (Groom, 2006). This understanding will benefit those children who are affected by ASD. Knowing what effect ASD has on those children will make it more possible to teach them how to interact socially. Empathy has been thought to be one area where children with ASD have significant deficits, with the idea that their brains are more 'wired' toward logic and systems rather than empathizing (Wing, 2007, Carey, 2005). This may or may not be true, but it does seem that children who have a more difficult time understanding how to show empathy for others, also have a difficult time communicating and socializing. Communication abilities such as understanding nonverbal language cues and utilizing theory of mind are closely tied to social interaction abilities. Anxiety is an emotion frequently reported to be felt by children with ASD, and is thought by some to be fairly obstructive to their abilities of social functioning (Macintosh & Dissanayake, 2006). Fearful emotions and those that regulate risk-taking are sometimes reported to be overactive in children and adults with ASD. This can inhibit the minimum risk-taking required when entering a new situation, or when interacting with other people. Both situations can be unpredictable, and therefore anxiety inducing. The cycle of fearful emotions is a difficult one for individuals with ASD to break. Mary Warnock wrote about children with ASD:

‘It is essential that we raise the question what their ‘inclusion' in mainstream school amounts to and whether it is experienced by them as good. The reality seems to be, in many cases, that it is experienced as a painful kind of exclusion.'

(Warnock, 2005, 43)

Chapter 3: Design and Methodology

3.1 Introduction

This chapter will outline the design of the investigation to evaluate the effectiveness of inclusion for the child with ASD. The researcher will assess this by drawing on the experience of Primary School professionals.

The main objective of this research project is to gather in-depth and meaningful feedback from the participants, instead of collecting statistical data. As Bell states “Researchers adopting a qualitative perspective are more concerned to understand individuals' perceptions of the world. They seek insights rather than statis perceptions.” (Bell 1999, 7)

The researcher is also aiming to illustrate the relationship between the theory based literature on the subject and the daily situation in Primary Schools by referring to teachers insights, as well as to the implementation of an inclusive programme.

Investigating from Two Perspectives:

This research project seeks to examine the effectiveness of inclusion in the mainstream classroom for children with ASD from two perspectives

  • The perceived benefits of attending a special school on children with ASD
  • The perceived benefits to the children with ASD who attend a mainstream Primary School

Aims of the project:

  • The benefits of inclusion for the child with ASD.
  • The effectiveness of the inclusive classroom.

In addition, the study will look at:

  • The issues of adequate training and information for staff.

3.2 The Research Methods and Design:

“Questionnaires rely on written information supplied directly by people in response to questions asked by the researcher.” (Denscombe, 2000, 89). Therefore, the researcher chose this method as it would allow her to collect a large amount of information which could “be used subsequently as data for analysis” (Denscombe, 2000, 87). When considering this form of data collection, the researcher took into account the fact that each person responding to this questionnaire would be reading a list of identical questions. This would allow “for consistency and precision” and would make “the processing of the answers easier.” (Denscombe, 2000, 88). Denscombe points out that “questionnaires are at their most productive” when the researcher is seeking “standardized data from identical questions - without requiring personal, face-to-face interaction” and when the data required is “straightforward information - relatively brief and uncontroversial”(Denscombe, 2000 ,88). These points were a deciding factor when it came to picking appropriate methods for this piece of research. The researcher paid particular attention to question design, making sure the questions were precise and to the point. The type of questionnaire chosen was the “postal type” as this would mean the data would be collected “without direct contact between the researcher and the respondent” (Denscombe, 2000, 88). The researcher felt the responses received would be less inhibited by this.

“Interviews enable participants - be they interviewers or interviewees - to discuss their interpretations of the world in which they live, and to express how they regard situations from their own point of view” (Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2005, 267). After careful consideration of this fact the researcher chose the Interview as another measurement technique for this project. She decided to use open-ended standardized interviews. This type of interview means that “the exact wording and sequence of questions are determined in advance. Interviewees are asked the same basic questions in the same order.” (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2005, 271). As a result of all the participants answering the same questions it is easy to compare responses and to organise and analysis the data. Interviews allow for a more open-ended approach, “topics raised in the interview may incite respondents to voice subjectivities never contemplated before” (Gubrium & Holstein, 2002, 22).

3.3 Choice of Sample: Questionnaires

It was important to gain a balanced view on the topic; therefore the researcher carefully chose two types of school to focus the research on. The first school is a Special School for children with Autism. This school has 80 pupils and 20 Teachers. Most of the children have an S.N.A. The school follows the same curriculum as a mainstream school but the children individually attend different classes throughout the day like gardening, woodwork, pottery and home economics. There is also purposely built playgrounds for the children depending on their age and their ability.

The second school is a mainstream school. This school has 28 Teachers and 644 pupils. There are 8 children with A.S.D, 5 of these children have an S.N.A.

3.3.1 Choice of Sample: Interviews

Interview 1 Teacher in a Special School

This interview was conducted in the school staff room at 3.30pm on Monday 14-3-2011. The interviewee had been given a copy of the questions on the previous day, to allow her time to consider her answers to the questions. The interview was recorded on audio with the permission of the interviewee. This interviewee was chosen to be interviewed based on their knowledge of the area and their involvement in a Special school setting.

Interview 2 Teacher in a Mainstream School

This interview was conducted in the interviewee's home at 1.30pm on Sunday 1-5-2011. The interviewee was given the questions a few minutes before the interview to allow them to prepare their answers if desired. The interview was recorded on audio with the permission of the interviewee. This interviewee was chosen for the study as they have many years teaching experience in a Mainstream School.

3.4 Restrictions:

There are problems that co-exist with this type of research method. The fixed questions can cause “constraint and limit naturalness and relevance of questions and answers”. (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2005, 271) However, it is hoped, that by being aware of these restrictions the researcher will be able to take this into account when analysing the information received from the interview process.Also, it is important that the researcher takes into account the “impact of face-to-face interaction” (Denscombe, 2000, 88) as it is human nature to embellish the truth to gain a favorable response. As regards to the use of questionnaires, a researcher must be prepared for a number of non-returns. By sending out a greater number of questionnaires than is needed for the research, the researcher can be ready for this.

3.5 An Ethical Approach:

The researcher has prepared an informed consent form to be signed at the beginning of the interview by each participant. A consent form will also be included with every questionnaire. As Bell points out, “permission to carry out an investigation must always be sought at an early stage.” (1999, 37). The consent form was formulated with the specific aim of informing the participant of their rights and to help ensure that everybody involved were happy with the process. The researcher will ask permission to record the interview as this will make it easier when it comes to interpreting and analysing the information.

It is essential during this research project that the anonymity of the interviewees is respected as this puts the participants at ease and encourages them to express themselves freely. This will lead to more honest opinions about the topic of inclusion. This anonymity is guaranteed through the consent form which will be signed by both the interviewer and the interviewee. The researcher will also guarantee that their name or the name of the school they are involved with will not appear in the research project and that any opinions voiced will be solely used for the purpose of the study.

3.6 Conclusion

The researcher will investigate the perceived benefits of the mainstream classroom for the child with ASD. The researcher chose interviews and questionnaires as the best methods for obtaining knowledge and understanding of the topic from informed personnel.

Chapter 4: Statement of Results

4.1 Introduction

This chapter outlines and discusses the information obtained from the research conducted. The researcher is hoping to gain some insight into inclusion and how that relates to children assessed as being on the autistic spectrum, based on the opinions of teachers.

Questionnaires were returned from the two schools included in the study. Of the forty-five questionnaires sent out, a total of thirty were received (response rate of 66.6%). The researcher also conducted two interviews, one with a teacher from a special school and one with a teacher from a mainstream school.

For the purpose of the following the teachers interviewed will be known as Teacher A and Teacher B:

  • Teacher A is working in a special school.
  • Teacher B is working in a mainstream school.

4.2 Background of Participants

A) > 1 yearB) 1 - 5C)6 - 10D) 11 - 15E) 16 - 20F) < 20 years

As seen from the chart above the majority of the teachers that took part in the survey are teaching less than 1 year and so are Newly Qualified Teachers.

The researchers chose the interviewees due to their experience in both a special school and a mainstream school.

Teacher A has worked in a Special School for the past eight years. She has thought a number of different age groups and is presently teaching in post-primary 4. These children range from 13 years of age to 15 years of age and have varying learning difficulties. There are two children with A.S.D.

Teacher B has worked in a Mainstream school for over 20 years. There are no children with A.S.D in his current class. Through out his teaching career he has gained valuable experience teaching children with A.S.D in a mainstream setting.

As visible from the table below, the majority of teachers answering the questionnaire are mainstream class teachers (11 responses) and class teachers in a special school (11 responses). This is favourable as it means the two school settings focused on in the study are represented equally.

Table 1:

Position(s) held:

Responses:

Percentages:

Mainstream class teacher

11

36.7%

Special Class teacher

1

3.3%

Teacher in Special school

11

36.7%

Resource teacher

0

EAL teacher

1

3.3%

Principal

0

Subsititute teacher

6

20%

More than half (18) of the teachers who took part in the study have some experience working with a child with A.S.D in a mainstream classroom. Considering that 50% of the sample group are teaching less than a year, this is a surprising result. 12 of the sample group have no experience teaching a child with A.S.D in a mainstream classroom.

A) YesB) No

4.3 Inclusion and the Child with ASD

Teacher A and Teacher B consider what is needed for the successful inclusion of a child with ASD in a mainstream educational setting:

  • Structure - structured timetables from the minute they enter the school. There can be no sudden changes in a timetable or during the day. This can greatly distress a child with A.S.D.
  • Individual behaviour programmes - designed specifically to combat an individuals needs.
  • S.N.A's - depending on where the child is on the autistic spectrum, they may need constant attention and help to focus.
  • Sensory space - many children with A.S.D find using their senses calming. Having somewhere they can be involved in sensory play is essential.
  • Social play - planned and supervised times for group interaction. This can be used to develop social skills.

A) The level of inclusion of a child impacts on their development

B) Strategies for inclusion are necessary when teaching a child with A.S.D

C) Successful inclusion is determined by where a child is on the autistic spectrum

D) Social inclusion of all children naturally happens without teacher input or planning

E) More teacher training is required regarding the child with A.S.D

The data collected as seen in figure 3 shows that all teachers, bar one, that took part in the study agreed that the level of inclusion of a child within the educational setting impacts on their development.

All teachers that took part in the survey believe that it is necessary to have strategies for inclusion when they are teaching a child with A.S.D. This opinion matches that of the interviewees were by they both suggested behaviour plans are necessary for the successful inclusion of a child with ASD.

70% of the group agree that successful inclusion of a child is effected by where that child is on the autistic spectrum, leaving 30% who disagree with this.

76.67% of teachers who took part in the study, either disagree or strongly disagree that social inclusion of all children happens naturally and 23.33% feel that there is no need for teacher input or planning. This result backs up information required in the interview process. Both Teacher A and Teacher B thought that planned social interaction is needed when creating an inclusive environment.

90% of the sample felt more teacher training is needed regarding the child with A.S.D.

4.4 Approaches and Methodologies

  1. Routines are important in your classroom for a pupil with A.S.D, to assist theirinclusion
  2. Co-operative learning will help to create an inclusive environment
  3. Having procedures in place to deal with specific needs will aid the successful inclusion of a child
  4. Approaches and methodologies chosen should be influenced by the specific needs of individual pupils
  5. There are plenty of teaching resources available that are specifically designed for use when working with a child with A.S.D

Figure 4 illustrates that all of the teachers who took part, believe that routines in the classroom assist with the inclusion of a child with A.S.D.

100% of the sample agrees that co-operative learning will help to create an inclusive environment. All the teachers in the sample, either agree or strongly agree that having procedures related to specific needs will aid successful inclusion of a child. Only 1 teacher disagreed that methodologies used should be influenced by the needs of an individual pupil. 56% believe there are not enough specific teaching resources. It may be interesting to note that when teachers were asked was more teacher training needed regarding the child with ASD, 90% of those who completed the survey said yes. Yet when asked, in question 5 are there plenty of teaching resources available specifically designed for the child with ASD, 43% of the sample felt there are. This is a high percentage considering the majority of the sample group felt unprepared.

Only a small portion (3) of the teachers who answered the questionnaire thought that successful inclusion of the child with A.S.D in the mainstream classroom is happening all of the time. 6 teachers disagreed, and felt that it is not happening at present in schools. Most teachers (21) felt that inclusion was only happening successfully in mainstream classrooms sometimes.

A) Yes B) No C) Sometimes

4.5 Most beneficial learning environment

The interviewees were of differing opinions regarding the most beneficial learning environment. Teacher A who comes from a Special educational background felt that smaller classes, specialised equipment and staff training made a Special school a more beneficial learning environment for the child with A.S.D. While Teacher B understood that what a Special School can offer a child with A.S.D is helpful, he still felt that the integration of a child with their peers “far out weighs” these benefits. Both teachers agree that which learning environment is most beneficial depends on where the child is on the Autistic Spectrum. The researcher asked a similar question as part of the survey. The sample group where given the choice of three learning environments:

A) Mainstream classroom

B) Special Class in mainstream school

C) Special School

Figure 6 shows that 36.67% thought that inclusion in the mainstream classroom is the best learning environment for a child with A.S.D. 43.33% felt that a special class within a mainstream school was more beneficial. 20% of the teachers believe that a special school is the most beneficial learning environment.

4.5.1 Benefits of a Mainstream classroom

Both teacher A and Teacher B were in agreement when asked about the benefits of being in a mainstream environment on a child with A.S.D:

  • Their social, personal and linguistic skills can be developed in a mainstream class.
  • Peer interaction.
  • Development of life skills through example.
  • More focus on academic improvement - both teachers felt that sometimes less was expected of the children academically in a special school and that this can actually hinder the individual's development.

Question 7 on the questionnaire asked the sample group which type of learning environment is most beneficial for the child with ASD? And, Why? The following are some of the comments that the group that picked ‘mainstream classroom' made:

- All children have the right to be included, it is up to the teacher to help the child integrate.

- Child needs extra support but benefits greatly from integration both socially and academically.

- Not segregated and made feel different can learn from their peers..

- If the child is still within a mainstream school they can interact with 'normal' children while still getting the help they need.

It should be noted that this group of teachers felt that the social aspect of inclusion in the mainstream classroom is of great benefit to the child with ASD. This was also something that was established during the interviews also.

4.5.2 Benefits of a Special School

Teacher A and Teacher B also both agreed on the main benefits of a special school environment:

  • more adaptable for special needs
  • smaller class numbers.
  • a sense of acceptance and fitting in.
  • Specialised equipment and staff training.

The following are comments made by teachers who took part in the survey, in regards to why they chose ‘Special School':

- the majority of the time the special class in a school is left to their own devices. A Special school allows for social interaction but also provides the extra care that children with ASD require.

- Abundance of resources and knowledge available which aids the child's development.

- More personalized learning programmes. Specifically designed equipment.

- Focussed attention to special needs, specific teacher training, abundance of resources.

The comments that this group of teachers made is supported by the list of benefits that a special school offers, as suggested by Teacher A and Teacher B during their interviews.

4.5.3 Benefits of a Special Class in a mainstream school

It is important to take note that 43.33% of teachers who took part in the survey felt that the best learning environment for a child with ASD is a ‘Special Class in a Mainstream School'. This is higher than both the other choices. The following are comments made by those in favour of a special class in a mainstream school as the best learning situation for a child with ASD:

- The children receive the extra attention that they need on a daily basis but also spend time integrated into the mainstream classroom which aids their social development.

- When a school has a special class or ASD unit attached to the school, there is a much greater awareness of the needs of children with ASD. Also the mainstream teacher has the back up of resources and knowledge when the child is ready to be integrated into the mainstream classroom.

- The child gets the specific attention they need while still being able to take part in school events and be included.

- I feel that a special class in a mainstream school allows the child the benefit of the social integration with the advantage of the specialist care and attention they need through their time in a special class

4.6 Training and Information

When the researcher asked the sample group ‘do you think teachers are given adequate training and information in regards to specific inclusive education?', 4 teachers felt that they did. 26 teachers thought that more training and information was needed.

A) YesB) No

Both teachers that the researcher interviewed indicated that the level of training and information relating to specific learning needs and inclusive education is inadequate. The interviewees both stated that currently inclusive education in relation to special needs is very much about ‘learning on your feet', while in the classroom. Teacher A felt that pre-service training was insubstantial, with only one hour a week dedicated to Special Needs Education and no time spend dealing with specific learning needs. She further feels that standard Educational Degree programmes do not put enough emphasis on the complexities of educating the child with A.S.D. Teacher B was of the opinion that in-service training would be suitable as teachers could be trained according to their educational needs at the time. This means that “the teacher could learn by doing and reinforce theory with everyday practice”. The opinions given by Teacher A and Teacher B during their interviews were in keeping with the information received from the survey.

A) in-service education

B) greater range of special education teaching resources

C) assistance with planning

D) a whole school policy which addresses specific special needs

Out of 86.67% of the sample who felt that extra support was needed, most felt that all four suggested support systems would be of benefit. With a whole school policy for specific special needs being the most popular way to offer teachers extra support.

4.7 Conclusion

During the study the researcher gained valuable information by examining the relevant documents, policies, evaluations, curriculum and other literature, as well as by interviewing and surveying professionals involved in inclusive education who have experience working with children with ASD.

Chapter 5: Discussion of Results

5.1 Introduction

Through the questionnaires and interviews which were conducted, the researcher has gained insight into inclusive education and how that relates to the child with ASD. The teachers were enthusiastic in their participation and answered honestly. The researcher's main focus was to gain an understanding of teacher views of inclusive education and their experience of working with children with ASD within an inclusive classroom. Essentially, the Researcher wished to find out is an inclusive setting always best for a child with ASD?

5.2 Main Findings

5.2.1 Background of Participants

50% of the teachers who took part in the questionnaire have been teaching less than one year meaning that they do not have a huge amount of experience in the classroom, yet 60% of the teachers who answered the questionnaire said that they had taught a child with ASD in a mainstream educational setting, demonstrating the considerable number of children with ASD, that are actually in the mainstream system. This echoed the researchers readings on the subject that approximately 1 in every 100 individuals in the population are affected by ASD (DG-SANCO, 2010)

5.2.2 Inclusion and the Child with ASD

The successful inclusion of a child with ASD is dependent on teachers' knowledge of the disorder. By understanding the anti-social nature of ASD, discussed in chapter 2, Teachers can be more prepared to facilitate the child in a mainstream setting. Most of the participants who took part in the study showed an understanding of the ‘triad of impairments' (Carey, 2005, 37) that affect a child with ASD. This was demonstrated by their total agreement that the level of inclusion of a child impacts on their development. A child with ASD needs to develop social skills that can only be acquired through peer interaction. Furthermore, the majority agreed that successful inclusion is determined by where a child is on the autistic spectrum and also that teacher input and planning was necessary to facilitate social inclusion. Children with ASD share the ‘specific social nature' common to all humans (Vygotsky, 1978, 88) to some degree, varying by individual, and they must learn how to access social groups.

5.2.3 Approaches and Methodologies

The interviewees considered what was needed for the successful inclusion of a child with ASD in a mainstream classroom and came up with a basic list which included: structure, Individual behaviour plans, sensory space and social play. This list of approaches was added to by the results gained from the questionnaire. Central to successful inclusion are the approaches and methodologies used by teachers. The researcher was happy to discover that all the teachers who took part in the study understood the importance of routines, co-operative learning and the need to have procedures in place to deal with specific special needs. Based on the results the researcher feels that teachers today have the understanding of the approaches and methodologies needed to facilitate successful inclusion in their classrooms. As stated in chapter 2 a child with SEN needs their own space in a highly organised situation to make any educational progress (Wing, 2007).

However, the common perception in the research is that there is a distinct lack of teaching resources available that are specifically designed for use when working with a child with ASD. This fact is also mirrored in the literature review when Carey (2005) and Sharkey (2000) both express this opinion.

5.2.4 Benefits of different Educational settings

One of the arguments in favour of educational inclusion is that all children with SEN benefit from the social life in a mainstream school and by socialising with their typically developing peers (Ainscow, 2007, Dessent, 2004, O'Brien, 2000). The participants in the research were of differing opinions regarding the most beneficial learning environment for a child with ASD. The interviewees both expressed the same ideals when asked the benefits of a special school and a mainstream school. Special Schools equal “smaller classes, a sense of acceptance and specialised equipment and staff training.” And Mainstream Schools equal “peer interaction, modelled behaviour and social, personal and linguistic skills.” This was a common perception among the survey group as can be seen from their comments made in chapter 4. Both of these options have benefits and downfalls. 43.33% of teachers who took part in the survey felt that the best learning environment for a child with ASD is a ‘Special Class in a Mainstream School'. This is higher than both the other choices. When a school has a special class or ASD unit attached to the school, there is a much greater awareness of the needs of children with ASD. Also the mainstream teacher has the back up of resources and knowledge when the child is ready to be integrated into the mainstream classroom. This is in-keeping with the opinion of Ainscow (2007) in chapter 2 that a higher quality of education could be achieved in an inclusive system.

5.2.5 Training and Information

The research indicated that the teachers involved had a good level of understanding when it came to theory related to the topic of inclusion and also had a basic understanding of the needs of a child with ASD, but none of the research group were satisfied with the level of training pre-service. There is no specific training related to facilitating inclusion of the child with ASD, during the four year degree course. The two topics are dealt with separately. They felt that it was ‘insubstantial' and that they were very much left ‘learning on their feet'. During the study the researcher offered a number of suggestions for extra support that could be given to teachers when they have a child with ASD in their class. A whole school policy which addresses specific special needs was the most popular suggestion. The department of Education and Science (2001) also expressed their support for a whole-school policy, stating that this would help promote inclusion. Following close behind, in popularity were in-service education and assistance with planning. The lack of proper training is a fundamental drawback and continues to hinder successful inclusion.

5.3 Conclusion

Due to the researcher's findings and her interest in this particular area, there are some topics that arose which she feels warrant further investigation. There is a definite lack of specifically designed resources for children with ASD. If the possibility came about, it would be of great interest to the researcher to further investigate and develop specific resources needed by a child with ASD. Another area of interest the researcher would consider for future study is the further development of specific support systems for teachers who have children with ASD in their class.

Based on her study, the researcher saw the many advantages to the inclusive classroom but she found herself asking - Is it morally or realistically right to believe that all pupils no matter what their special needs are able to learn in a mainstream classroom. They may receive a better quality of education in an ‘inclusive system' (Warnock, 2005) which offers links between mainstream and special schools.

Some children with SEN may learn more in a programme designed to have links between special and mainstream settings helping combat the gap that exists between educational settings in curriculum and social development. It could also stop the isolation that can be the result of receiving full time education in a special school. The researcher would like to emphasise that she is in favour of all learners exercising their right to learn together but she is also concerned about situations where being in the classroom has taken president over actually learning in the classroom.

In the researcher's opinion, the issue of providing adequate training and information must be addressed if inclusive education is to work effectively, and if it is to guarantee a positive outcome for all parties involved. It is only when these matters have been attended to that the benefits of an inclusive educational system for a child with ASD can be estimated.

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